Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

The Children of New Labour

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

This blog hasn’t been a fan of the Metropolitan Police’s public order policing in the past and it seems that David Cameron has finally woken up to the appalling consequences of appeasing an opportunist, baying mob.

It’s no criticism of the individual police officers to note this schizophrenic attitude to policing. Indeed, it must be extremely frustrating for them as individuals to be asked to switch from passive to ultra-aggressive mode. However, this bipolarity must give bizarre signals to those people who are breaking the law – ‘it’s OK to steal, smash things up and burn them until, er, it isn’t’ (maybe when the 24 hour news helicopters sniff out the trouble).

On this point maybe it’s worth reconsidering the famous bear/tree aphorism in a modern context – ‘If something is stolen from a shop and no-one films it then has it happened?’ Certainly if I was an excitable, marginally-criminally inclined idiot and saw the helicopters arriving and then saw the breathless coverage on TV about where it was ‘kicking off’ next then I guess I’d be out to see what was going on.

The 24 hour news channels seem to have emerged from the post-mortems scandalously intact. Some of their reporting was irresponsible in the extreme – motivated more for the ratings and the syndication rights than for any concern about what their glamourising of arson might do.

Woman Jumping From Burning Building In Croydon -- From Telegraph Website

For example, the aerial images of the fire became almost iconic. It was a sick, pathetic glorification of criminality that may arguably, by its propagation around the rest of the world, damage this country far more in the long term than the actions of a small number of looters.

You can almost imagine these pathetic, holiday relief juvenile BBC news producers going into paroxysms of excitement, thinking they were transmitting images that evoked echoes of the Blitz. OK – report what’s happening but don’t repeat it on a 5 minute cycle to make it look worse than it actually was. IMHO, the people who didn’t show any editorial judgement but became part of the baying mob by proxy are just as bad as the scumbags who actually did the looting.

I’d argue the TV news coverage encouraged the looters to turn into arsonists. Thinking back to recent media coverage of large-scale lootings, such as happened in the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, no-one there set fire to the places they’d stolen from.

In some respects, it’s understandable, if not condonable, that people will help themselves to something in an abandoned shop if they think they can get away with it – but to break into residential property is far worse and to set a fire that may threaten any individual’s property, home or life is utterly beyond contempt.

I can only guess that it was either motivated by some kind of ‘that’s my fire there on the telly’ sick boasts or some disgusting attempts to hide the forensic evidence that might be used for the trainer-stealing Crime of the Century.

Perhaps fortunately for Ed Milliband, the courts have been processing those arrested very quickly – so rather than construct a narrative of the supposedly dispossessed ‘kids’ – the Labour Party have had to acknowledge that a large proportion of those arrested are not the oppressed jobless but university students, teaching assistants, locksmiths, trainee security guards, models and so on.

Apparently by far the largest age group arrested in the riots was the under-24s – so these are the people whose ‘moral compass’ was set in the reign of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The oldest any of them would have been when New Labour was elected was ten. Most were at an even more impressionable age.

Any opprobrium heaped for their appalling behaviour must be heaped on the resentful and avaricious moral-relativism ingrained in the likes of Brown– that Blair only served to obscure. Despite Ed Milliband’s efforts, absurd poison has been spilling out of Harriet Harman’s mouth over this week, although, to be fair, most Labour MPs have not been so equivocal in their condemnation of the lawless behaviour.

While the behaviour of the rioters has been criminally disgraceful and should never be dignified by any excuses – after all, there are plenty of underprivileged people who don’t riot – I have some general sympathy if their anger is motivated by any realisation of the shocking legacy the likes of baby boomers like Blair, Brown and Harman have left them.

On an economic level the baby boomers have looted the wider economy in almost as brutal and amoral way as the rioters on the streets – revelling in the indulgence of full employment or free education in their teens and twenties (and the supposed free love too), then skewing the economy of the planet towards their own reckless, rapacious consumption economy and, after this, retiring early in good health to expect the young to wait on them into their febrile long old age, having not produced a economically viable replacement population themselves – nor actually invested properly in the taxes to pay for an education system that invested in other people’s children either.

This is why it’s so sickening that the victims of the arson and looting tend to have been not the baby boomers or the rich but entrepreneurs who run small shops or people living in low-cost housing over shops that were firebombed. It might be argued that it was only when the total breakdown in law and order allowed by the gutless, spineless, politically-correct senior police chiefs resulted in some random and horrific opportunist burglaries and steaming of restaurants and so on in middle-class areas that the ‘ordinary’ people who have to put up with low-level crime routinely were given a little protection.

Also, it’s an almost inevitable effect of the model of global capitalism that has had hegemony over Western economies for the last 60 year that it exploits and seeks to make idiots of its consumers. With age and experience, consumers become accustomed to the insidious and manipulative ploys of global capital’s marketers – and global capital counters this by trying to force a wedge between generations.

‘Don’t listen to your parents – they know nothing’ – is the message of almost all advertising aimed at the youth market since the 1950s. Thus the aim of global capital is to be a malign pseudo-parent to a generation – urging the worshipping of consumption over all else.

No wonder the abiding image of the riots (except for the gut-wrenching flames) was the materialism – looting of flat-screen TVs, trainers, the latest mobile phones and other items. Apparently no bookshop or library was touched.

Moreover, one of the reasons underlying the credit crunch (as was) and now the stagnation of western economies is the reckless amount of personal debt that the banks have allowed individuals to accumulate. It’s arguable whether there’s a huge amount of difference between walking into Comet during the day and ‘buying’ a TV on a credit agreement that you can’t pay back and breaking in at night and taking the same TV for nothing. One’s legal, one’s not – but in the end there’s going to be someone out of pocket.

As said above, what marked the rioting out as particularly heinous was the violence and arson – the disregard for personal property and, even, life itself.

In the final analysis, it’s amazing that the police didn’t understand that human nature (or how it’s been corrupted by global capital) means that many people will behave in a way that’s determined by a calculation about whether they might get away with something. It’s so elemental and so fundamental to the preservation of order in any society that it’s stunning that the Metropolitan Police bosses seemed to think, like the bankers who ruined the economy, that ‘it’s different this time’. Yes, it definitely was – but not in the way they thought.

Little Matadors

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Exploiting the disappearance of a murdered schoolgirl, invading the privacy of terrorism and the grief of relatives of our killed armed forces — all of course, despicable things for so-called private investigators to do, but I find the whole media circus whipped up in the wake of these revelations to be almost equally as distasteful.

Every time I turn on the BBC news I expect the presenters to be high-fiving each other — ‘And now here’s Hugh to gloat more about how we nailed the bastard’.

Of course Rupert Murdoch isn’t the sort of character that has any need of sympathy (although Jonnie Marbles — surely the blundering, knee-jerk epitome of everything that’s nauseating about this news juggernaut — has managed to garner him some). Nor do his Teflon-aspirant executives. But almost any executive from any large company is likely to have stonewalled similarly.

I don’t know whether the likes of the BBC and the Guardian have so little self-knowledge about how transparently their delighted pursuit of their own agenda comes over or whether they’re all so euphoric about the thrill of the chase and — they hope — the kill. It reminds me of the image of bullfighting when the previously mighty bull is fatally wounded and then the cowards come to stick their barbs just to deepen the animal’s agony. Except that, as Murdoch says, the News of World was less than 1% of his company — the most likely destruction is likely to be wreaked on the journalists’ own domestic industry — not Murdoch.

Think of the organisations and groups who have been revelling in the Schadenfreude:

  • The BBC — whose existence has been challenged by Murdoch’s papers and whose dominance over broadcasting in the UK is now being eroded by BSkyB — the takeover of which by Murdoch has now been conveniently abandoned. The semantics the BBC have employed have been outrageous — repeatedly referring to the ‘Murdoch empire’ — a loaded description that recalls ‘evil empires’. (I also have sympathy from a feminist perspective with Rebekah Brooks — the BBC and other media have gone out of their way to picture her as a wild-haired harridan — her appearance has featured much more than a man’s would have done. I’m waiting for Fiona Bruce to have a slip of the tongue and talk about what happened when the wicked witch of the evil empire was put on the ducking stool — I mean before the select committee. That is about the general level of the BBC’s gleeful reporting.)
BBC Website Photo of Rebekah Brooks

BBC Website Photo of Rebekah Brooks

  • MPs — whose excesses (and criminality in some cases) were humiliated to the point of public contempt by leaks to newspapers — although it was the Telegraph rather than News International papers that broke the story. Yet there’s a strong whiff of revenge and score settling against the print media as a whole that seems to be driving the parliamentary outrage.
  • The Labour Party — as evidenced by his incoherent and factually incorrect rant Gordon Brown in particular, and the Labour party in general, appear to be peculiarly resentful about the withdrawal of support of News International papers in the 2010 election. And let’s not forget it was a Sky microphone that caught Brown’s comments about Gillian Duffy. Commentators say Ed Miliband has played his cards well in the current situation — the irony is that if he was even a semi-competent Leader of the Opposition then the Murdoch papers wouldn’t have effectively abandoned him as a joke. He’s only been able to distance himself from the  Murdochs because they wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole. The support of The Sun and the News of the World was courted slavishly by New Labour — and Murdoch delivered Blair three election victories. All the offences that are under discussion at the moment happened under New Labour and their regime of press supervision and police governance. The new evidence that John Yates failed to act upon came to light under the last Labour government.
  • Other newspapers — anyone who thinks it was just News International papers that indulged in phone hacking must be so naive they believe the current media hysteria is all in the public interest rather than advancing vested interests. There is obviously an advantage in accelerating the story so it damages News International as much as possible before the truth about their misdemeanours is revealed — and perhaps they hope the overkill will turn the public off the story by then.

All the above have been been on the receiving end of rough treatment from Murdoch — but in the case of the Labour Party and MPs — they have been the ones who chose to sup with the devil. They have benefited hugely from a company’s patronage that has been brutal with others. Where were Brown and Miliband’s concerns in the mid-2000s when the hacking was going on? The BBC hasn’t benefited from Murdoch’s patronage but it so loves to take the moral high-ground about its supposed impartiality and infallibility that it’s supremely hypocritical to so obviously join in this witch hunt. Also, BBC journalists aren’t averse to feeding themselves from the Murdoch trough when it suits.

The Guardian, traditional enemy of the Murdoch press, might feel it has come out blamelessly and shining with moral rectitude. I do wonder, however, about the timing of the latest revelations. It was well known that the NOTW had hacked celebrities’ voicemail — and, largely, very few people had much sympathy for them. It was interesting, therefore, that the revelations about the hacking of Millie Dowler’s voicemail — much the most serious offence as it both disrupted the murder enquiry and gave false hope to her parents — were publicised when the conviction of Levi Bellfield for her murder was fresh in the public mind. Did the Guardian sit on this news until it might have more resonance with the public? Surely not.

The public already have a low opinion of tabloid journalism — but surely they could have expected better from the police? For anyone’s phone messages to be ‘hacked’ what we’re really talking about is someone getting a private phone number and ringing the voicemail landline number (I wonder if any of these people had a PIN protected inbox — if so then it puts some phone company employee in the frame too). And for the police to sell private phone numbers of victims and relatives is utterly indefensible. It is the aspect of police corruption which is far more damaging than anything to do with the press. But the inhabitants of the media bubble have got so excited with the repercussions in their little circle that this has been scandalously underplayed.

In the wider world, the Euro is in just as much of a fragile condition, if not more so, than when the rioters were on the streets in Greece (another televisual event that grabbed the rolling news agenda). If Italy or Spain get into a similar situation to Greece, Ireland or Portugal — or if a deal can’t be worked out to restructure Greek debts on Thursday — then that’s a story which affects everyone in this country. Trouble is our news media is far happier force-feeding the public with its own agenda. Their insularity and arrogance only serves to underline how easy it is for a populist like Murdoch to have so thoroughly dominated them for more than thirty years.

Tory Housing Minister Speaks The Truth That New Labour Never Dared Utter

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has uttered the heresy in an interview with the Observer (according to the BBC website) that spiralling house prices are not necessarily A Good Thing.

It’s incredible that it’s taken a Tory minister to finally utter this blindingly obvious economic truth rather than a minister of the supposed party of the left which had been in power for the previous 13 years.

‘He described the rise in prices between 1997 and 2007 as a “crazy period”, which had left many younger people struggling to buy a home. “I think it is horrendous that a first-time buyer would need to be 36 on average if they do not have the support of mum and dad,” he told the paper. “The main thing everyone requires for their subsistence is a roof over their head and when that basic human need becomes too expensive for average citizens to afford, something is out of kilter.’

The supposed prevailing notion that we should all celebrate when house prices accelerate is a tripartite conspiracy between lazy journalists trading in clichés, parasitic businesses like solicitors and estate agents who take a bigger cut of higher prices for doing the same work and lastly, the group who should have some moral scruples, idiotic politicians who like to pimp the popularity of a ‘feelgood’ hysteria created as a product of their own negligence that in any other sector of the economy would be regarded as dangerous hyperinflation.

The pernicious, irresponsible lionising of rising house prices is directly connected to demographics — the beneficiaries of the inflation being the risible baby-boomer generation. Now coming up to retirement, they’ve seen the houses they bought 20 or 30 years ago for very little turn into theoretically huge assets while they can flog off the properties inherited from their parents’ generation. The uncool, unthanked older generation is now bankrolling the conspicuous consumption of the boomers — skiing trips; cruises to see the polar bears in the Arctic before their habitat disappears due to the boomers’ trashing of the environment; the Harley Davidson every anal-retentive, male middle-manager aspires to;  endless botox and nips and tucks to satisfy their vanity — and then there’s the cosmetic surgery for the women.

Meanwhile they’re happy to load tuition fees and other debt on to the younger generations which will reduce the income they can use for shelter — as Shapps says, that  most basic of needs — to the point where huge numbers may never have a realistic prospect of climbing the bottom rung of the housing ladder.

Any responsible government, particularly one on the left, ought to be appalled by how its economic mismanagement has failed to deliver a most basic provision to its electorate — and to have presided over such a skewed distribution of wealth and capital between the generations. Saying something is ‘out of kilter’ is putting it way to mildly.

Yet demographics means that it will be a brave government that tries to prize the nation’s assets away from the wasteful and destructive grasp of the most selfish generation of all time — because they’ve shown that they’re effective at using their strength of numbers to appropriate an unequal share of resources for themselves from the self-mythologising, narcissistic cult of their own youth to near full-employment in the 70s, the consumerist orgies of the 80s and 90s and now the looming demands they will put on the healthcare sector as they age.

Falling house prices aren’t good either as they trap people in negative equity — which is another appropriation of capital from the buyer to the seller — but house prices that rise at rates far higher than earnings are absolutely ludicrous. Finally someone in the government has had the guts to say so. Let’s see if he’ll be made to withdraw or otherwise ‘explain’ the comment.

A Nutty Report

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

The BBC gave huge publicity today to a study in the Lancet that supposedly compared the harm done inflicted by various ‘drugs’. As it was co-authored by Professor David Nutt and his ‘Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs’ it will be no surprise to anyone that alcohol is the worst drug by a long way.

It seems the BBC will jump in ecstasy to report any supposed scientific ‘facts’ about alcohol but most reasonable and scientifically literate observers should now realise that these neo-prohibitionists are overstating their case so much they’re now discrediting themselves.

How is it that they can  possibly equate the harm of alcohol usage with that of heroin and crack cocaine when the vast majority of the population of the UK use alcohol without inflicting any harm whatsoever on the rest of society? Because for the simple reason that more people use alcohol in aggregate.  What kind of scientific logic is this? When interviewed on Radio 2 today Nutt readily accepted the equivalent argument, based on his premise, that knives cause far more harm to society than guns — their ready availability might mean they are implicated in more crimes overall than guns but is that an argument for removing them from everyone’s kitchen?

There are valid points to be made about alcohol abuse and (proper) binge drinking but this study is such a lightweight piece of self-re-inforcing prejudice that it’s surprising that it ever got published in The Lancet. If I understand the BBC report correctly then it’s just a weighted model of the subjective opinions of a group of self-selected experts.

I wouldn’t like to live in a society where the numbers of people using crack cocaine and alcohol were reversed. It seems the last home secretary was right to dismiss Professor Nutt as he’s clearly a man with his own agenda. As a Daily Telegraph report from last year showed he is not without his own person interest in this debate — they report he’s working on a commercial alcohol substitute.

Of course, we wouldn’t expect the government to protest too much at shoddy statistical prejudice declaiming the evils of drink — they stand to cut a substantial amount of deficit by taxing our sin. It’s a shame that the actions of the likes of Nutt, by providing a supposed justification for higher duty, might cause responsible alcohol consumption in pubs to be endangered in favour of supermarket tinnies of wifebeater — but that’s what perhaps they’d like to see more of?

‘Be Careful What You Wish For…

Friday, May 7th, 2010

…or you just might get it’ could be applied to Nick Clegg and anyone who voted for him out of an anti- motive rather than any love of the Lib Dems.

At the time of writing (12.45pm) the Tories have 294 seats, Labour 252, Lib Dem 52 and The Others 27, including the admirable Caroline Lucas’s win for the Greens in Brighton. This means that a joint Labour-Lib Dem coalition is still 22 short of a majority and is only 10 ahead of the Tories as a whole (with 25 mostly large rural seats yet to declare).

This means Clegg can only deliver a majority to the Tories. It’s fairly likely that any Labour-Lib Dem deal would need to get the support of some of the smaller parties. They might be able to get some support from the Greens on an ad hoc basis but they’d still have to go to the self-interest of the nationalists.

Should Cameron and Clegg come to some agreement then this would be undoubtedly the most stable outcome — even allowing for some dissent within both parties. A joint Tory-Lib Dem cabinet might also have the happy result of perhaps sidelining a liability like George Osborne and replacing him with Vince Cable.

Yet Clegg and Cameron will probably engage in some brinksmanship. The Tories will be extremely reluctant to endorse proportional representation — but Clegg should probably treat his new putative best friends Milliband, Balls, Harman and Brown’s sudden conversion to the cause with the contempt and suspicion it deserves. He’d be a fool unworthy of holding the balance of power if he trusted politicians whose main motivation seems to be to stab their leader in the back in order to succeed him. The Tories will reject the more leftish policies that Clegg stood on — quite a lot of them, such as the immigration amnesty and Trident.

I guess Cameron will reject most of Clegg’s demands and he could justify this by the poor showing overall for the Lib Dems, which seeing as Clegg was apparently still popular must have been influenced by their policies. He will probably see if Clegg has the nerve to make the so-called ‘coalition of the defeated’ with Brown.

This might please many of Clegg’s casual and tactical supporters but would be an insult to his party activists and loyal voters — who must already be demoralised, having fought against Labour and, in most cases, have not succeeded in removing many Labour MPs themselves. Brown is also likely to have to make disproportionate concessions to the nationalists as the Lib Dem support seems unlikely to produce a majority in itself. It would also be political suicide if there was an election in the near future as those who voted tactically anti-Tory would probably return to Labour if they had been seen to be able to not lose this election.

If Cameron was quite cynical, he’d probably not be too disappointed to rebuff Clegg and see what kind of ramshackle coalition Brown (or those who seek to dispose of him in his own party) could put together. Remember this government is going to have to finally face up to dire economic reality and institute massive public spending cuts as well as raise taxes. The Tories might think it cuter to let Brown face his own music and bank on his Commons arithmetic falling to pieces (think of the rebels on the Labour benches if the hatchet is taken to public spending) and expect there to be another election within a year or two.

Of course, Clegg may also take the same view and realise that it would be electoral suicide for the Lib Dems to prop up an inevitably unpopular government — perhaps getting proportional representation would then be their only chance of avoiding obliteration.

Overall, Cameron’s best strategy is probably to offer Clegg very little and try and call his bluff into propping up Brown. If the Lib Dems either have to support him or be complicit in helping Brown try and dig himself out of his huge hole — either propping up someone who’s currently pulled in 29% of the popular vote or replacing him with someone too gutless to have tried to replace him before the election.

This is all in the context of Cameron’s undoubtedly disastrous campaign — sabotaged last year by Osborne’s ‘Age of Austerity’ and more recently by his baffling ‘Big Society’. Brown got away with outrageously negative campaigning — effectively ‘vote for us or you’re more likely to die of cancer’ — and he was the incumbent of thirteen years. Cameron was stiff, aloof and complacent and hardly tested the massive own goal presented by Brown’s and New Labour’s monumental incompetence.

If this posting is marginally less lucid and more discursive than normal it’s because I watched the 11.5 hour BBC coverage of the election night non-stop with Sky and ITV streamed on laptops and making frequent reference to the BBC website (which seemed to lack information in favour of clever animations) and, more frequently, to the Guardian’s web pages on each constituency.

Smithy Izzard Isn’t He?

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Sport Relief is an interesting concept. Someone must have thought ‘sports personalities are treated like celebrities these days, why not use them to do Comic Relief again without risking over-exposure’. The problem with this luvvie-PR approach is that the majority of sports personalities (although that phrase in itself is often an oxymoron) have less sense of humour than a set of goalposts.

The kind of selfless determination and motivation that’s required to get to the top in sport is almost, by definition, less receptive to many kinds of humour, particularly British self-deprecation. This is no doubt more true in individual events where there’s less social interaction than in teams. Also, the time needed to train and practice, particularly as a young person, means that many athletes are less likely to have spent time watching comedy on television.

This was comically apparent during James Corden’s ‘Smithy’ section on ‘Sports Relief’ last night. While I watch ‘Gavin and Stacey’ I wouldn’t class myself as a huge fan: it seems to be this year’s ‘Little Britain’ and seems to be similarly pumped up by the BBC hype machine, perhaps as evidence that not everything on BBC3 is total garbage. The appeal of the programme seems to come more from the engaging performances of Matthew Horne and the lovely Joanna Page (one of the recipients of Jonathan Ross’s loathsome lustings) plus good support from Alison Steadman and the ubiquitous Rob Brydon. The characters played by Corden and Ruth Jones seem to me to undermine the rest of programme.

Corden’s ‘Smithy’ character seems to be positioned by comedy opinion formers, such as Comic Relief, as a sort of mouthy, loveable slob England-supporting, sports following couch potato — sort of Loadsamoney with sport replacing the dosh. ‘Sport Relief’ showed a performance he must have done as a warm-up for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year last December which was a bit peculiar.

He started with a mock acceptance as Coach of the Year, then did a mock acceptance speech which veered at times into a serious rant and then followed, as if in apology, with a hammed up ‘let’s make Britain great’ conclusion. What was striking about the performance was that he picked on some of the sports celebrities in the audience in traditional stand-up fashion — and the looks on some of their faces were  of absolute thunder which said clear as day ‘I am a living legend. You can’t take the piss out of me.’

Fabio Capello probably didn’t know what the hell was going on so he laughed amiably throughout. Similarly, genuinely laid-back personalities like Ryan Giggs knew to laugh along at the (not very funny) suggestion he was about 45 by now. Also, politicians like Lord Coe knew that the worst thing to do in these circumstances was to look peeved or offended — though the Ovett remark seemed quite close to the bone. However, Freddie Flintoff’s face was a picture when Corden ridiculed his nickname and his injury record (pointing out that his drinking arm was always in good order). Kelly Holmes also seemed to be aggrieved when he said running 800m was nothing compared with Paula Radcliffe’s marathons — but Radcliffe suddenly looked rather serious when, in the most amusing of his jokes, Corden asked if anyone had shown her where the toilet was. I guess that some of these people wouldn’t have had a clue who this fat, scruffy oik in a tracksuit was — especially as he’d yet to join comedy royalty because this segment was recorded before he’d had the honour of having his show transmitted as a Christmas Day special

What was most striking, however, was when he went into tub-thumping, jingoistic mode — ‘We Can Win the World Cup, We Can Win Wimbledon’ and followed it up with a combination of sporting cliches about winning. The audience, having been fairly puzzled by the stand-up comedy, then got to its feet and cheered him to the rafters. While this was, no doubt, edited for effect, I’m sure that Corden was ridiculing himself (or his character) at this stage — a point that seemed to be lost on most of the audience. Steve Redgrave, sorry Sir Steve Redgrave, stood there wiping away a tear from his eye which, while it may have been staged, seemed to me to be the sort of reaction he’d make if that sort of speech was given straight. I suppose these sporting celebrities shouldn’t be criticised for reacting in this way — if they had the brains of comedians then we’d never win anything. (It reminds me of Clive Woodward’s, sorry Sir Clive, selection of records on ‘Desert Island Discs’ — it was the most unsubtle, two-dimensional list but, more than anything it was functional — uplifting, ‘euphoric’ anthems like ‘The Greatest Day’ by Take That or ‘Life is A Rollercoaster’ by Ronan Keating plus pumping, adrenaline releasing stuff of the sort they play on BBC Sport programmes incessantly by Eminem or Chicane. I guess his desert island life would be permanent reminiscing of the glory days of the world cup.)

Watching the thing a second time it seems that it was more edited than it may have appeared originally and certain personalities will have been prompted that they were going to get the Smithy treatment and may even have been told to try and keep a straight face (Kelly Holmes for example).  Nevertheless, most of the expressions looked quite transparently horrified that this tubby comedian could get on stage and say things that, taken out of the flimsy ironic context of supposedly been in character, were actually pretty insulting.

However, that re-inforces the paradox of Sport Relief — a comedy vehicle that features some of the straightest and least amusing people possible — although there was a fair amount of blokeish, dressing room humour in evidence when Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson did Masterchef — sausage and mash, steak and chips and spaghetti a la carbonara — and all cooked quite well — such is the competitive nature of these people. I tend to think these fund raisers, laudable as they are for raising money, tend to be designed as a useful spin-off for celebrities to gauge their relative standing. Christine Bleakley got promoted to hosting a section this year, as did James Corden — so obviously they’re on the up. Obviously they’ll have taken the places of some fading personalities whose phones no longer ring with offers as much as they did when they were on the way up.

One person for whom I have unreserved admiration is Eddie Izzard. I watched the final ‘Marathon Man’ programme, which followed the end of his incredible 43 marathons in 51 days. I had expected him to have prepared thoroughly for such a masochistic challenge but I was amazed to see that he cut a very unathletic character, even with something of a pot belly after more than half the marathons. Even were he to have lost weight his heavy physique is not really one of a distance runner.

I do a bit of running myself but I’ve never gone near anything like marathon distance. The furthest I’ve done is the half-marathon, which is gruelling enough, and, at my pace, meant over two hours of continuous running. I lost a toenail for several months after that and was fatigued for a couple of days — even after having worked up to it for a few weeks. Eddie Izzard apparently only trained for five weeks and so ran at a pace that meant his marathons were taking around five hours — even ten hours in some cases when he was almost literally dead on his feet. To run for ten hours along roads and then do it all again the next day must take the most incredible willpower. I’m not a huge fan of his comedy but I can see how he must have had the determination to make a successful career (he returned to locations in Edinburgh where he’d started as a street perfomer during the programme). Of all the celebrity challenges that are performed for these fundraising events, Izzard’s must be metaphorically, if not athletically, way ahead of the field.

Snogging BBC3, Avoiding 6 Music, Marrying Cynicism or Idiocy

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Either the top BBC management are incredibly stupid or they’re trying to be too clever by half — and, quite possibly, they’re both. Why on earth do they think that axing BBC Radio 6 and the Asian Network is a strategic course of action?

By its charter, the BBC has to primarily cover public service obligations that commercial broadcasters arguably won’t undertake but it also feels it can’t be too elitist if it’s levying a regressive tax of £130 per household for its services. Interestingly, the range of programming on channels like Sky Arts and, to a lesser extent, Classic FM and many US cable channels like HBO shows that it’s possible to produce commercial broadcasting that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. In fact the most crass, dumbest programming that can be viewed on any remotely mainstream channel (such as on Freeview) is BBC3 – inspiration of gems like ‘F*ck Off I’m Ginger’, ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’, patronising rubbish snippets of news presented by ‘cool’ presenters who no doubt got the job through their father’s connections down the lodge, repeats of ‘Eastenders’, various programmes where people film their genitals for an hour, ego-trip hagiographies of BBC programme makers (‘Dr Who Confidential’) and where the only half-decent programming is destined for BBC2 anyway. It’s almost entirely absolute total rubbish but is considered inviolable by the idiotic BBC management as it’s targeted at the sacred Yoof market — people who the BBC commissioners completely fail to understand despite their obsessive pursuit of the demographic. You have to end up watching Stag Party Channel on Sky at midnight on a Friday to see anything equivalently witless to the general rubbish pumped out by BBC3.

So this expensive pile of insulting crap remains untouchable whereas a couple of cheap radio stations that serve less fashionable demographics are to be wiped from the schedules. I’m not sure what the Asian Network has done to offend the BBC management so much. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it but it appears to be a more public service orientated station than its untouched equivalent — 1Extra. This would appear from its publicity to be focused on the sort of music that Radio One provides quite a substantial outlet for and pirate stations in London even more so – and it seems to address a far narrower audience than something generic like the Asian Network. 6 Music falls down because it’s meant to serve those too grown up for Radio One (surely anyone over about 13?) and those not old enough for Radio 2 (over 35s apparently). I thought the targeting of those two stations was simpler — Radio One is for single people and Radio 2 for marrieds or equivalents (just listen to any dedication that comes in on Radio 2 — it always mentions a wonderful spouse).  At heart it’s a fairly serious music station, despite being hijacked by the egos of ‘look at me I’m a rising star’ merchants like George Lamb or that Lauren Laverne,  6 Music is playing the sort of slightly less commercial music that a public service broadcaster ought to play and the last thing that should happen is it to be closed down. Radio One is far harder to justify, as is Radio Two.

People have speculated the whole thing is a cynical exercise in creating a grass-roots movement to ‘save’ 6 Music — perhaps the BBC realised that the crass stations they want to preserve like Radio One and BBC3 wouldn’t generate such almost universal sympathy and goodwill? Yet, if they’ve been cynical enough to do this, they’ve only just drawn further attention to the rubbish that they’ve been too weak to consider touching.

All I can say is that they’d better not even hint that they’re threatening BBC4.

I Get What the BBC Is For Now

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

…it’s a job creation scheme for gold medal winning athletes from years ago. The Winter Olympics is a case in point. The main qualification seems to be respectable and middle-class rather than to know anything much about the sport. I’m used to people like Sue Barker and Gary Lineker presenting programmes and the likes of Steve Cram do a reasonable job presenting and Matthew Pinsent makes a relatively enthusiastic reporter but this Winter Olympics seems to have the medal winning presenters and reporters crossing the liminal zone into commentator and pundit territory. Therefore Matthew Pinsent has been volunteering his expertise on both curling and ice hockey. He’s a nice chap (I’ve even held one of his gold medals at a corporate event) but I wonder how much more he knows about these sports than any viewer who’s read the papers and watched a bit of it on television. I guess the BBC would argue that he has a unique insight into the psychologyof the medal winning athletes — but that argument is utterly self-defeating because if none of the audience thought they had an ability to try and imagine what it’s like to win gold then the viewing figures would probably be cut by about 95%.

You Need A PhD To Understand the New University Challenge Format

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I’ve given up trying to understand the new ‘best-loser’ format in University Challenge. It seems to be more difficult to grasp than the subject matter of most of the questions. One advantage it does have, in television terms, is that you see the teams return more regularly to have another go and you get an interesting sense of déja vu. I particularly welcomed seeing Girton College, Cambridge return to the fray on Monday. They had a particularly gripping bout against St. Andrews where they took an early lead, then were caught up by their opponents (mainly due to an incredible streak of starter answers from someone called Flaherty). I wasn’t too keen on St. Andrews as, although Jeremy Paxman said their average age was 24, they appeared to be mainly mature students (i.e. ones doing PhDs and other research) and not undergraduate students: I always think it’s unfair when a bunch of hairy, beardy, beer-bellied blokes in T-shirts come up against ‘normal’ students.

I found myself getting behind Girton as they eventually pulled ahead of St. Andrews. This might not have been unconnected with the composition of the Girton team — unusually having two female students. Being a thoroughly feminist minded chap I particularly admired the intellect displayed by Becca Cawley (reading English) whose appearance will probably encourage more applications to Oxbridge (admittedly male ones) than any amount of government target-setting. I particularly liked the way she was game to have a go at questions she really didn’t know the answer to (usually because St. Andrews had buzzed too quickly) and the hesitant way she volunteered these answers — the complete antithesis of the sort of arrogant swot one might associate with academia.

In the end I was almost cheering when Girton got through to fight another day. I’ll scrutinise the Radio Times for when this day is as I’ll make a point of watching.

Typical Biased BBC Reporting on Alcohol

Friday, January 29th, 2010

A reactionary friend and I had an e-mail conversation about how hypocritical it is for the media to bewail the calibre of politician we have. They are one of the main reasons why politicians have become discredited — it didn’t take too long for the spin doctors and interview coaches to teach politicians how to avoid the elephant traps the likes of Paxman and Humphreys set for them and how easy it is to manipulate lazy journalists into following a set agenda. In short we have politicians who evade and distort because we have a news media that is devious and generally lacking in ethics (see Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe).

There was a fantastic example of biased reporting which pushes a narrative set by politicians yesterday. The BBC website reported a fact that may astonish most people in this country –alcohol consumption per capita is going down – and going down quite rapidly. What the BBC report didn’t even mention was the figure for overall average consumption figure: down to 12.2 units per week in 2008 compared to 13.5 in 2006 (buried in a Reuters report). This is, according to my calculations, a 9.6% drop over two years. The BBC report described this as ‘slight’. In what other context would a 10% decrease be described as ‘slight’? I can guarantee that if the figures were the other way round and showed an increase of the same magnitude that there would be the lead story — ‘Alcohol consumption going up by 5% a year!!!!’

Instead the BBC deliberately broke down the figures by class to report that professionals were drinking more than the working class — 13.8 units — sensationalising the findings to suggest a growing crisis but not supporting this with evidence of any increase at all.

While this is a good news story that belies the general narrative that we are fast becoming a nation of drunks, the BBC was careful to conflate this with reports that drink related deaths are increasing.  Alcohol related deaths rose from 8,724 in 2007 to 9,031 in 2008 — now that’s an increase of 3.5% in a year — which is obviously something to be concerned about but is smaller than the slightly less than 5% fall (allowing for compounding) in average consumption. Was that 3.5% increase also reported as ‘slight’? No. It was used as the headline for the web page.

Moreover, the number of total deaths in 2008 according to the ONS is 509,090 which makes alcohol related deaths 1.7% of the total. Again, because these are avoidable then this is obviously way too many but I doubt a headline that says nearly 2% of people in the UK are killed by booze would grab so much attention. (I would guess the man or woman in the street would think it at least double or even quadruple that). However, at a steady rate of growth of 3.5% (compounded) it would take another 18 years for the number of alcohol related deaths to rise by 50%, which would be around 4% of the total number (making the assumption that all other trends continue).

At least the page later conceded that consumption had been falling since 2002 and because the deaths are largely concentrated in older people who have, almost by definition, been drinking for many years that the positive trend of lower consumption will take a similarly lengthy period of time to show in the mortality figures.

Of course a rise in alcohol related deaths is very bad news and should be reported but so should the facts that show that overall this country is getting more sober and in general taking a more sensible attitude to drinking, albeit there may be more extremes in number of genuine problem drinkers and a large number of teetotallers.

Yet the way the Department of Health and other lobby groups put out a drip feed of press released that are regurgitated by lazy journalists shows that the media is complicit in completely misrepresenting a positive story into scaremongering. We might expect some of the tabloid press to do this but for the BBC to be so complicit is quite shocking.

The Day Today Comes to Haiti

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I’ve found watching the news coverage of the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath to be quite unsettling. George Alagiah and company stand at the airport anchoring the whole news programme repeatedly telling us how food, fuel and water are in terribly short supply and that people are dying because of the shortages. Would that be the sort of food, fuel and water that news anchors and their attendant crews are consuming? And would space on the flights out to Haiti be better filled with aid than with the size of TV crew required to present the whole bulletin remotely.

By all means send reporters out to show the scale of the problem but it seems completely unnecessary for the news to be presented from the disaster area — morally dubious in its prurience.

This co-incided with the first episode of Charlie Brooker’s new series of Newswipe  on BBC4. I’m generally a great fan of Brooker, though I occasionally find his rants too grating when he drops the self-deprecation and gets too high on his moral horse. In this episode he exposed the irrational faddishness of the editorial decisions made on television news and the pack mentality that seems to have infected news decision making since the advent of 24 hour news channels. There really isn’t much logic in the importance placed on stories — if it fits a particular narrative it gets coverage. It’s not much different from superstition in the middle ages.

Truth often ends up imitating fiction and our news media seems to resemble the ludicrous parodies that Chris Morris produced in the 90s — ‘The Day Today’ and ‘Brass Eye’ (the special of which I have on DVD as it’s not very likely to be repeated).

On Roads

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Over Christmas and the New Year I read a really good book that I’d been saving for myself since the autumn as a Christmas present to myself.

It was ‘On Roads: A Hidden History’ by Joe Moran. (There are good reviews in the Guardian and Independent.) It’s a very good book — probably the sort of book the word ‘discursive’ was defined for. Moran takes roads, or more particularly, major roads built this century — from the Kingston Bypass in the 20s but mainly from the advent of motorways — and meanders around the subject, throwing in some fascinating facts and anecdotes.

Having watched the BBC4 series ‘Secret Life of the Motorway’ in 2008 (I think) I recognised some material on motorways that was a little familiar — but fascinating nonetheless. It includes the history of the signage used on motorway signs — and which spread to all road signs in the 60s. The debate on font choice (serif or sans serif) got incredibly ideological.

Part of the appeal of the book is its discussion of what is very familiar to most people who travel round the country on motorways but is rarely discussed — such as motorway services, design of signs and so on.

The author mentions parts of motorways, such as the M1 in Bedfordshire or the M62 over Windy Hill or the M40 (the last major motorway to be built — all of 19 years ago), as if recalling old friends, which to many readers they are. He also discusses the irrationality of much of the road system — mainly as the grand designs of the 50s and 60s were scaled back on a piecemeal basis due to lack of funding and, latterly, anti-road protests. The irony is that a half-finished road plan is probably worse for the environment than if it was properly finished — such as the infamous stretch of the A57 through Mottram where the M67 discharges 3 lanes of motorway traffic into what’s effectively the main street through the village — a place to be avoided during the day. There are also plenty of urban motorways that similarly funnel traffic into inappropriate areas or are hugely underused as they hardly go anywhere (like the old M41 that nowprincipally serves as a feeder road into the Westfield Shopping Centre). 

Moran gives the anti-road movement a lot of coverage. However, he points out many of their hypocrisies — such as how Winchester College was initially happy to sell the land through Twyford Down for the M3 extension but when the road came to be built the head (or however schools like that term the person in charge) was one of the prime protesters. He also mentions how the old A33, which the Twyford Down section replaced, has now been buried under much of the spoil taken from the M3 construction and has been very effectively reclaimed by nature. He argues that roads aren’t actually very permanent and neglected for a few years will start to be colonised by plants and trees – something that can well be believed seeing the way potholes emerged from under the melting snow recently.

He also argues that roads are no less destructive to the countryside than railways were and that many people are misled by the out-of-proportion markings of roads in an atlas (you need to get down to about 1:25,000 OS Explorer map scale before they’re anything like accurate). I’ve certainly noticed that, apart from big junctions, roads tend to be less visible from the air than railways. 

I’ve followed the impressive reconstruction of the M1 between junctions 6A and 10 with great interest since 2006 — I even went to a local consultation display at Slip End near Luton. I was therefore fascinated to read that Slip End and the nearby hamlet of Pepperstock have a legendary status in British motorway history as the first earth was moved for a British motorway at Slip End and the opening ceremony for the M1 was held at Pepperstock (junction 10 as it is now). (The M6 round Preston opened earlier but I think construction started later.) I’ve driven on or under that part of the M1 most days for the last four or five years.

At the end of the book he dwells on our generally hypocritical attitude to roads — popular imagination (as stoked by cliches perpetuated by the likes of the BBC) would suggest the British hate their roads but Moran suggests the relationship is far more benign and complex.

I Love Jeremy Vine

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

When I get the opportunity I love to listen to Jeremy Vine at lunchtime on Radio Two — I even started running at lunchtimes partly so I could listen to his show.

Part of the appeal is the mix of serious discussion with the absolutely ludicrous and including the whole spectrum in between.

Vine is also the heir to Lesley Crowther, when he presented ’The Price is Right’ (‘you’re a frozen food salesman, how wonderful!)  in his ability to sound completely sympathetic and sincere to his interviewees but also planting the merest hint that he might not be as totally straight with them as they might thing. That may be entirely unintentional but I like to think I pick up more than a slight touch of irony.

Today’s showis a great example of the subject matter. We are promised: an earnest discussion on the power of supermarkets over the agricultural industry; a guide to the little known but now controversial country of Yemen; an item on meditation and how its practice might help people overcome depression; and a discussion on the ex-mayor of Preesall who, no doubt due to the ubiquity of his photgraph on the web, is now famous for his conviction for breaking into houses and stealing womens’ underwear! I’m sure the last item will be a sensitively handled debate on people inclined to transgenderism by proxy and not a cheap excuse for a few Carry On Film type jokes.

An Ageing Celtic Primadonna Loses His Big Star

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The star wanes on a dynasty of unparalleled recent success — an egotistical, Celtic Svengali watches as the sun sets on his creation. He presides over the drawn-out departure of the big star that he created and the commentators wonder whether, in the context of an inevitable but obvious deterioration in form and originality, that the remarkable success was down to the now-wearisome personality or some now lost management genius.

I wonder if Alex Ferguson was watching Dr. Who over the Christmas holidays?

‘Most Footballers Are Knobs’

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The immortal words of Joey Barton on this morning’s Today programme. It was guest edited by Tony Adams so every other item on the programme was about football or sport. Barton gave a long interview about his ‘troubles’ which was quite entertaining and he wasn’t quite as stupid and inarticulate as you might have thought, although he didn’t pull his punches about the immaturity of the personalities of his fellow professionals — explaining that they have often come from backgrounds of ‘nothing’.

It’s surprising how many ex-professional players make lucid and intelligent summarisers and analysts (although you tend to think they usually pull their punches due to the old pros’ Omerta).  However, being a great player is no guarantee of intelligence as several high profile names have shown recently.

I listened to the programme from about 7.45am onwards and it was surprisingly interesting — quite a bit about sportsmen and addition, as one might anticipate.